On Goodreads I’m Petunia Huggins

As part of my general move to get out of the code basement this year I have been secretly plotting my return to Goodreads. On my way back into Goodreads I’m meeting a few people who are on their way out — closing their accounts! — in protest to its acquisition by Amazon last week.

It turns out the the Goodreads community had some expectations — or better, hopes — that their growing community, built around socializing books, was going to go down the ideologically pious “internet foundation” path of Wikipedia and Craigslist to remain independent, unbiased, non-commercial and protective of their privacy.

Whatever. Not be too flip, but I don’t feel much outrage here:

1. First off, I think this is a genius move for Amazon and Goodreads both, but Amazon more. I like the angle that by allowing Goodreads to stay independent Amazon gets some anti-trust mitigation. Ha ha ha! And ironically, as long as Amazon is *really* being a bully on the commercial middleman front the more they need the IMDB and Zappos and now Goodreads businesses to appear independent. Every revolution needs a sugardaddy — viva la revolucion!

2. I think Goodreads will be better off as a product with some financial stability and access to Amazon catalogs and Kindle integration. Only a year ago Goodreads users were freaked out because Goodreads had decided that Amazon integration demands were too restrictive and they withdrew those features! You can’t have it both ways. I tend to vote in favor of better UX when it’s an option.

3. Sure, the independence is precarious (1) and the better UX (2) is funded on the back of commercial pimping, and maybe those are just my cheap justifications for hitting the walkaway privacy-protest fatigue wall. Come on — I think the model is well understood at this point, no? You are giving up some version of your personal information in return for a software service. If Facebook and Twitter and the social services become too draconian or commercial or sucky, they will be replaced by better ones by the market or they will turn into public utilities. Have some faith here. Is pouty take-my-toys-home protest the only way to be heard in this conversation? Meh.

As an alternative to protest I’m seeing something else pop up as a way to register in this the social media privacy conversation:  plural identity, by way of pseudonyms.

I’m still ruminating on Jeremy Duns and his sock puppet crusades and I’m still running through my head the Disqus belief that pseudonyms are the healthy norm in online social contexts. Whatever the implications of plural identity as an online behavior and the varied intentions of people who practice it, both me and Petunia Huggins (hint: watch the video) are starting to see that it represents an alternative, subversive, backlash to the commercial data machines that are trying really really hard to get to know us. The machines that scare the walk-away crowd. Hmmm..


5 thoughts on “On Goodreads I’m Petunia Huggins

  1. Brent Logan

    My biggest concern for some of these services isn’t all the data they’re collecting, it’s that they just might decide they’re bored, delete it all, and fold up shop.

    After all, what if Amazon believes their social features are good enough and they could drive more traffic to them just be eliminated their biggest competitor? Or, less cynical, they just do a lousy job keeping GoodReads running smoothly, killing it through neglect and lack of budget?

    Think these big companies aren’t that stupid or incompetent? Think again. Google just announced a brand new free service for storing web clips, audio, URLs, etc. That’s the sort of think that you’d want to stick around for a long time. What’s the business model? Who knows… Unfortunately, they announced this immediately on the heels of killing Reader, another free Google service, and one that actually had a business model.

    Choose your overlords carefully. 🙂

  2. shelby Post author

    Good luck finding a nice overlord.. ha!

    I think that corporate incompetence is roughly a physics problem where mass (people + IP) is the largest factor, so by definition I think all overlords are about the same over time.

    Sure, Goodreads may get fumbled and killed by Amazon like Delicious did by Yahoo or any number of other acquisitions gone (done!) wrong. I’m not sure that Goodreads stands a better chance in the open market though.

    I’m curious — what was the business model for Googe Reader? I thought that was killed because it didn’t have a business model (or at least a viable one..).

    1. Brent Logan

      Google lives and dies by charging to put relevant ads in front of people. I would have thought that the feeds I read is very relevant to my interests. Google could have put targeted ads on the side of Reader like they do for Gmail.

      Does this mean that Blogger could be on the chopping block, too? I would expect the infrastructure needed to provide a blogging platform is much more extensive/expensive. And right now, they give the blogger the choice whether ads appear on their blogs.

      For that matter, how does Google justify *any* of its free services if it couldn’t make a go with Reader?

      1. shelby Post author

        Sorry for the late reply — been wasting time getting a gravatar working (which its not yet..)

        So the Google Reader had a *theoretical* business model (wishfully imagined — not inappropriately! — by you..), but not an actual one. Got it.

        Google as a business is a long conversation and I’m writing this while I wait for the bathroom behind 3 girls so maybe I have time.. . Not!

        My experience with Google is that it’s an obsessively data-driven culture, so I have to imagine that their cut decision had a lot to do with traffic trends for their reader and RSS in general. RSS was a geeky toy, hard to understand, communicate and use for grandmas everywhere.

        I’m still liking the Goodreads prospects at Amazon though.

        1. Brent Logan

          So Google thinks providing search has a business model because I’m *obviously* interested in buying something if I search for it once, yet if I read about something year after year, that’s not valuable information about what I might buy?

          I agree with you: Google is all about data. It amazes me that they’re throwing out a good source of data. Either no one was using Reader, in which case it’s costing Google very little to support, or a lot of people were using it, in which case, it’s a good source of data.

          I signed up for GoodReads way back when. I’d rather post the books I’m reading on my own blog.

          Good luck with Gravatar. WordPress.com is trying to merge it more with their WordPress.com sign on. I think that will hurt Gravatar’s adoption without significant increases in WordPress sign ups.


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